Bears Insider

Six Bears not named Justin Fields who are vital for 2023 success

If the Bears have any shot at realistic playoff dreams, these six non-Justin Fields Bears have to be great

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All eyes will be on Justin Fields this fall as the third-year quarterback attempts to take the necessary leap as a passer to cement himself as the Bears’ franchise signal-caller moving forward.

While Fields and his growth will be the dominant storyline for the 2023 season, there are several players – both old and new – around Fields who will be vital to the Bears’ hopes of making a surprise playoff run this fall.

We’ll start with the obvious and work our way down the list:

DJ Moore and Tremaine Edmunds

I’m going to start with the Bears’ two biggest offseason additions. The simple truth is that if Moore isn’t a legitimate No. 1 receiver and Edmunds isn’t the catalyst for severe defensive improvement, the Bears will fall short of any goal they have in 2023.

Last year, the Bears had a handful of good NFL players—the type of Tier 2 players you need to build a winning organization. But the Bears lacked elite difference-makers.

Moore and Edmunds change that equation.

In the handful of offseason workouts the media viewed, Moore’s speed and separation ability quickly stood out. With Darnell Mooney (rehab) and Chase Claypool (minor injuries) out, it would have been easy for the Bears’ passing game to scuffle as it did last season. But having a true go-to guy in Moore gave Fields and Co. a stabilizing presence – someone the quarterback could feed to get things moving before sprinkling in passes to Dante Pettis, Velus Jones Jr., and Equanimeous St. Brown.

AJ Brown played a vital role in Jalen Hurts’ rise last season. Stefon Diggs provided a similar spark for Josh Allen.

The Bears hope that adding Moore will elevate Fields’ game and give Mooney, Claypool, and tight end Cole Kmet roles that better fit their talent and skill sets.

As for Edmunds, his size and length immediately opened eyes during OTAs and minicamp. It’s easy to see why head coach Matt Eberflus targeted Edmunds for the MIKE linebacker position. Edmunds doesn’t have a history of ball production, but the Bears are confident he will thrive as a central cog in this defense.

The Bears need their splash acquisitions to live up to the billing in 2023. Everything depends on it.

Darnell Wright

I fully expect Moore and Edmunds to be as advertised.

General manager Ryan Poles also put a lot of his eggs in Wright’s basket. The Bears’ offensive line was notably horrific in 2022. Those problems stretched across the line, but the inability to find an answer at right tackle was a massive pain point.

Larry Borom started the season at right tackle but was replaced by Riley Reiff halfway through the season. Reiff did Yeoman’s work but also had his struggles in pass protection.

All in all, Bears right tackles gave up 37 pressures and nine sacks last season.

Enter Wright.

The Bears drafted Wright with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Wright dominated during his final season at Tennessee, giving up just eight total pressures and zero sacks.

The Bears believe Wright has an All-Pro ceiling, and they need his learning curve to be small. If Wright struggles, the Bears currently have no reliable options behind him, with Borom serving as their best swing tackle option.

If Fields is going to take a Year 3 leap, the Bears’ bolstered offensive line has to keep him clean. Wright’s a big piece of that puzzle, and he’s already taken strides early in his NFL career.

“It’s just confidence, you know?” offensive line coach Chris Morgan said of Wright during OTAs. “You know how it is. When you learn something and you hear something, how much does it stick with you until you go out and walkthrough it? Then you go out and you drill it. Then you go out in a team setting and you do it as a team. Then you come in and you watch it and you talk about it. That might have been against one look with one formation and one motion, and you might have three different ways to do that and the defense can do anything. It’s really about his understanding. His confidence has grown. The more you hear the calls, the more you hear the install, the more you study, the more you hear the scheme. When you own it as a player and you learn it, confidence rises. It’s cool to see that. He’s starting to get it. Things are coming together.”

Braxton Jones

Noticing a theme?

The Bears asked a lot of Jones during his rookie season.

Drafted in the fifth round out of Southern Utah, Jones arrived last spring as a developmental prospect. He was thrust into the starting left tackle role during the final week of OTAs and played every snap during the 2022 season.

Jones struggled out of the game. He gave up four sacks and 20 pressures in his first six games, including six pressures in a Thursday night loss to the Washington Commanders.

But Jones improved throughout the season and finished the season allowing just two sacks and 12 pressures in his final eight games.

Jones entered the offseason with a detailed plan to get stronger and better anchoring against the bull rush.

“His maturity really showed,” Morgan said of Jones's work this offseason. “Like, what he said he was going to do he did. Over the break he worked hard. We all saw a difference when he came back in the building, whether it was strength or whether it was bend. Getting away, taking a deep breath, and going to re-evaluate everything, you know how it is when you're a rookie? Things are kind of spinning. He was here, go play. As a rookie he played every snap. You get time to step away, decompress a little bit. Things slow down. You know what everything is supposed to look like. You know what I mean? You know what you're supposed to do. You know what's expected of you. And he's done a really nice job to this point.”

The Bears have great belief in Jones. He has to continue to improve this season. Fields can’t keep feeling pressure from his blindside, or else his internal clock will continue to speed up and his pocket presence will suffer.

Kyler Gordon

On the latest episode of the Under Center Podcast, former Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt outlined the myriad of things the nickel is responsible for in Eberflus’ defense.

The number of things the nickel must process quickly to ensure the defense's success is enough to make anyone’s head spin. On top of those responsibilities, the Bears also asked Gordon to play outside corner in the base defense.

It was a lot to ask of the 2022 second-round pick. Probably too much.

Gordon has talked this offseason about getting things to slow down. He spent the offseason pouring over his 2022 film, diagnosing all his mistakes, and understanding why they happened. There’s confidence he’ll be much better in 2023. The selection of rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson in Round 2 should allow Gordon to focus solely on the nickel while Stevenson handles the outside corner spot opposite Jaylon Johnson.

Given the Bears’ pass-rush issues, it’s imperative that Gordon is much better in Year 2. The Bears’ defense will go as far as the second and third levels can take it, with any production from the front four being a welcome bonus.

Gervon Dexter

Speaking of the front four, one man could make a big difference in 2023.

Second-round pick Gervon Dexter has all the physical tools needed to be a disruptive three-technique in the NFL. Dexter’s college defensive coordinator, Sean Spencer, coached star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence when he was on staff with the New York Giants. Spencer told NBC Sports Chicago that he believes Dexter has the same ability to “press and extend” that Lawrence does and sees a similar ceiling for the Bears’ rookie.

Spencer preached patience with Dexter. The Bears are working on rebuilding and elongating his stance as he transitions from a read-and-react system to an upfield penetrating one in Chicago.

But if Dexter can harness his potential early on and give the Bears a legitimate game-wrecker up front, the defense could be good enough to have them in the hunt come December.

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